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The defining characteristic of Xerox’s Phaser 8400N is its solid-ink technology. This system prints by painting the imaging drum with waxy crayon-like blocks of coloured material, whereas most laser printers work by electrostatically attaching powdered plastic toner.

Solid-ink printers used to command a premium, but the 8400N is both low-cost and great value. The technology has its advantages. Inks are loaded into shape-coded slots while the printer is operating, so you don’t risk running dry in the middle of a job. You won’t ever have to take the 8400N offline to replace a toner. On the other hand, the waxy ink
scratches off more easily than plastic toner fused to paper.

When you first fire up the 8400N, its inks take a while to melt – from a cold start, it takes as long as 10 minutes for the Ready indicator to light up. Most colour lasers can begin printing 15 to 20 seconds after they’re booted up. The smell of melting waxes might bother some people – you might want to isolate the 8400N in another room.

The solid-ink technology proved especially well suited to informational graphics and other illustrations that depend on large blocks of bold, bright colours. It didn’t perform as well on photos and other documents that require subtle shading or blending of colours. In our tests, the 8400N printed colour photos with accurate colours, but noticeable loss of detail.
It made a blotchy, spongy mess of greyscale photos, and line art looked jagged.

However, the output is still much better than most. Text is perfect, and the inclusion of support for Adobe PostScript 3 – which is much better than the emulated PostScript offered by some companies – was a major bonus.

The 8400N is fast with colour pages. The 8400N printed pages at a ripping 5.4ppm, almost half again as fast as the recent average. Text was sluggish though, appearing at more than 4ppm slower than the average of recent colour laser printers we’ve looked at.

Apart from the text speed and line-art jaggedness, there are some minor ergonomic issues. Firstly, the 8400N’s power switch is deeply recessed on the back of the printer and is difficult to reach. Secondly, though the case is 41cm wide and 51cm deep, and weighs almost 27kg, it provides only two handholds. Moving the unit would be a lot safer if there were enough handholds for two people.

Nonetheless, The Phaser 8400 is an absolute bargain for designers – especially freelancers, who can pick up the non-networked version for £699 plus VAT. Either way, it’s the best you can get for under a grand.